Sunday, October 2, 2005

Elsewhere: a look at IBM's web feeds

I got distracted tonight by the discovery of a large batch of RSS and Atom feeds at IBM. Since I had ten thousand other things to do, of course I spent a couple of hours looking around at the feeds and found some issues which I've written up here

e.p.c. posted this at 02:49 GMT on 2-Oct-2005 .

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

In SFO

Arrived in SFO close to an hour late...there were twenty flights queued for takeoff when we were supposed to leave, we didn't take off until after 7:15 (for a 6:00 flight). Absolutely normal flight. Weird to be in SFO again and not running across terminals to change to the Sydney flight.

e.p.c. posted this at 01:11 GMT on 5-Oct-2005 .

web2con

Mostly for Todd...I'm blogging my notes from Web 2.0 over here.

e.p.c. posted this at 13:38 GMT on 5-Oct-2005 .

Wow: Deadly 1918 Epidemic Linked to Bird Flu, Scientists Say - New York Times: Two teams of federal and university scientists announced today that they had resurrected the 1918 influenza virus, the cause of one of history's most deadly epidemics, and had found that unlike the viruses that caused more recent flu pandemics of 1957 and 1968, the 1918 virus was actually a bird flu that jumped directly to humans. Gives more urgency to tracking and cordning off any outbreaks of avian flu.

e.p.c. posted this at 21:00 GMT on 5-Oct-2005 .

Saturday, October 8, 2005

Home again

Arrived home around 7:30 from JFK. Flight was mostly ok, though I learned to avoid seat 11A on American's 767s (seem to have 1/3rd less pitch than other seats in business).

Landing was a bit rough...I think we did a go around but couldn't tell since there was zero visibility. Also my sinuses were acting up so I got these weird pressure pains as everything tried to equalize on descent.

On landing I felt I should turn around, I knew it was raining but the heat and humidity surprised me given how early it was in the a.m. Good thing that global warming stuff isn't true, otherwise I'd be worried (I am).

The conference I was at was ok. Mostly. I wrote about it on the artific.com site. Lot of neat, interesting stuf going on again in the internet space. Less so because of investors investing and more because the cost of entry has dropped (both for infrastructure and staff...a number of the startups have vended all or big chunks of development offshore). Not convinced it was the best use of my meager business income and would likely not return next year.

This week promises to be fun and painful all the same since we leave for Japan via LAX on Friday, arriving Tokyo on Sunday evening.

e.p.c. posted this at 08:32 GMT on 8-Oct-2005 .

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Off to Japan

Off to Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan via Los Angeles. I can be reached on skype (epcostello) or via email to epcostello@gmail.com. I've shut off comments until I return.

e.p.c. posted this at 23:40 GMT on 13-Oct-2005 .

Monday, October 17, 2005

Random notes on Tokyo 2005

We spent Friday evening with our friends Nancy and Robert at the W Hotel Westwood. After a long, delicious dinner, we wandered around with the glitterati of LA (well, the W-glitterati) in the hotel lounge and bar before retreating for post-dinner beverages in our room.

On Saturday, my brother Pat joined us for breakfast before he set out for Austin. He's decided to bag L.A. and the California experience for Austin, TX and is in the process of moving there.

We got picked up at the hotel right on time and arrived at LAX around noon for our 2:30 flight. I was a bit worried that this would be too early until I saw the line out the door for people checking into our flight.

At LAX the TSA folks do a chemical scan of your bags before checking into the transpac flights. This is not the reason the lines were so long, even for business class. For whatever reason, the checkin process seemed to take forever for each passenger. Perhaps they were running the passport numbers through wants and warrants or something.

Anyway, security itself was not the pain I'd thought it would be. Instead, we had about ninety minutes to kill in one of the most dismal airport lounges I've been in since paying for an Admiral's Club membership years ago.

Unlike the LAX QANTAS club lounge we'd revelled in last December, the JAL/Luftansa lounge is about 1000 square feet. The air conditioning was set to about 78 (it had to be on in some fashion otherwise it would have been warmer) and, being L.A., we had to suffer through the USC-Notre Dame game (sorry Pete, I hear that ND lost).

We finally boarded around 2:00 and had pretty uneventful takeoff and flight, except for one minor thing: It never occurred to me that in 2005 there would be a trans-Pacific airline that did not have in-seat power. Japan Airlines has apparently made the business decision that travellers should not be provided in-seat power. So, my plans for teaching myself a bit of Ruby and playing around with SQL during the ten hour flight were put quickly to bed. Furthermore, my plans to zone out to trance and techno music were also impacted, though to its credit my Apple iPod played for about six hours on the charge I'd done back in NYC before the JFK-LAX flight.

Arrival in Narita was not quite as amazing as the first time I'd arrived (see Superbowl XXXII), more of a mix of planes than the squadrons of 747s I'd seen then. It took about an hour to get through immigration and customs, which was just enough time to miss the 18.45 bus to our hotel. So, we ended up on the JR東日本:成田エクスプレスのご案内 to Shinjuku station. Cab ride from Shinjuku to the hotel was under ¥1000. It's actually an easy walk without luggage, but neither of us had been to the hotel before and, well, we were jet-lagged and frazzled.

The hotel is quite nice, it's the hotel featured in Lost in Translation. Ok, it's an amazing place, but after the flight, and the hassle of getting here (by the way, have I mentioned how its raining here? After 8 days of rain in NYC, we arrive in time for a typhoon to hover off the coast of Honshu for the week we'll be here), anyway....yes, it's a nice hotel, a great view from the restaurant. Probably greater when the visibility is more than 500m.

We walked around Shinjuku station this morning and had a nice sushi lunch at a restaurant in the Takashimaya Times Square complex (タイムズスクエア - 新宿タカシマヤ).

Crashed a bit back at the hotel and are planning to head out again in a bit. Much of what I'd like to see is outdoors and the weather is just not helping me overcome jetlag and the natural tendency I have to not want to engage in touristy things.

e.p.c. posted this at 04:53 GMT on 17-Oct-2005 .

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tokyo Day 2

We spent the morning in the Akihabara district. If you don't know Tokyo, this is an area of the city famous for its electronics shops. Stores range from typical You tourist, Duty Free tourist traps to general consumer electronics stores. Under the tracks is a collection of little stalls (maybe 2m by 4m) where all sorts of parts, gadgets, and miscellanous paraphernalia can be bought basically at cost.

We didn't buy a single thing.

Now, we were both shocked. We're both gadget hounds, we both drool at the site of a Fry's. When we were in Hongkong earlier this year we probably dropped US$500 or so on miscellaneous gadgets. I don't know if it's an effect of globalization, China, or just a general slowdown in innovation, but we saw nothing that made us drop our jaws and drool gotta have that!

There's a couple things I may return to get, but mostly because of the cost difference between here and the U.S. I don't necessarily need them (ok, the Bluetooth Stereo headset from Logicool (aka LogicTech) would be nice, but not necessary, and I'm not even certain my computers support the headset profile. And now that I've found it's available at Amazon there is no reason to buy it here.) The other item I found here was a four port DVI/USB KVM. It's also available in the US but for maybe US$300 more than I could get it for here.

We returned to the hotel mid-afternoon and ended up crashing for the remainder of the afternoon. Between the jetlag and the unceasing rain there was little motivation to wander outside. The good news though is that the rain appeared to break early in the evening.

We ate dinner at Kozue (also: 1, 2, 3). I had a set menu consisting of some sashimi and rolls, beef shabu-shabu, and noodles. Lisa had grilled mackeral and pickled vegetables (and complained that I'd chosen the better meal). Having eaten at Masa earlier this year we managed to gulp down the prices at Kozue with minimal discomfort (I've decided that I will divide all prices in Yen by 1000 instead of 100 to get to a quick and dirty conversion. It's totally, totally wrong but much more palatable).

Today we don't have anything specific planned, the rest of the group arrives late afternoon and we have to shift hotels. If the weather stays clear we may take on some of the parks and temples (though a visit by us to Yakusuni Shrine is unlikely). Laundry. Laundry might be a big thing today (having run through everything I'd packed because of the rain and my intense desire to not sit around in wet clothes).

e.p.c. posted this at 16:44 GMT on 18-Oct-2005 .

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Tokyo Days 3-5

So...we checked out of the Park Hyatt Tokyo on the first clear day we'd had here since arriving Sunday. I think we'd rather'd have continued at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, but had reservations at the Capitol Tokyu where the rest of the group was staying.

We cabbed over and checked in. On getting into the room we discovered:

  • The Capitol Tokyu has no in room safe
  • The Capitol Tokyu has no in room broadband
  • The Capitol Tokyu has no wifi of any use
  • The Capitol Tokyu has no in room thermostat

So...I haven't been blogging as much as a result. There is broadband in the hotel, for ¥300 for ten minutes or ¥1500 for an hour, at the business center. Good thing there are only two business people in the hotel at any one time, as there are only two broadband connected desks at The Capitol Tokyu.

(Writing for Google's indexer has an awkward effect on the flow, doesn't it?)

Yesterday we went to Tsukiji, late around maybe 7:00 a.m., so we missed the auctions. Still got a chance to walk around a bit and see some hot-and-heavy fish action.

In the afternoon we took a bus tour of Tokyo. This tour consisted of driving us to a bus terminal at the Tokyo World Trade Center (no, don't go there).

We got to go to the "top" of the WTC, which at 40 storeys is just high enough to still look up to the tops of many other more famous buildings in Tokyo.

We then rode a boat up the Sumida(?) River to Asakusa.

The apparent objective was for us to walk up a touristy arcade to the temple at Asakusa, and then to get back on the bus.

At this point Lisa and I and several others decided it was too nice a day to be pinned to what could only technically be described as a tour.

Lisa and I walked over to Kappabashi, the kitchen/cooking district. This is several blocks long of everything you need to stock a kitchen or restaurant.

On returning to the hotel we both passed out for a bit.

Dinner was at a roboyataki(sp?) place, it was delicious, and I forgot the 名刺 (meishi) upstairs in the room and will have to blog more about it later.

Today is an open day, we will likely wander the city a bit, I'm trying to pick out a museum or two to go to as well.

e.p.c. posted this at 16:24 GMT on 20-Oct-2005 .

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Common Census

The Common Census project aims to draw a cultural map of the U.S. (including affinities for sports teams!). Go cast your vote today.

e.p.c. posted this at 00:00 GMT on 22-Oct-2005 .

Tokyo Days 5-6

So, yesterday we moved from the Capitol Tokyu over to the Grand Hyatt Tokyo at Roppongi Hills. The 20 minute cab ride over was so exhausting we crashed for much of the morning.

We got up finally to get some lunch at a donburi place in the Roppongi Hills complex. We also walked around the complex a bit and found a puppy store called Dog's Care Joker 六本木ヒルズ店. I truly mean puppy store, they had maybe 10-12 6-8 week old puppies. No, we did not acquire any of them. They also had many various sweaters and jackets for dogs, any one of which Frisket would likely maul us for buying for her.

We then headed over to the Ginza district for some shopping at 無印良品 (Muji) where Lisa stocked up on pens and I decided that a Japanese XL was probably not even remotely close to a size I could wear. I did get to check out a neat Muji-Infill collaboration on a pre-fab house. Housing costs in Tokyo make the costs in New York look cheap, and this Muji-Infill project is an attempt to bring the cost of building down (once you've acquired the land). Unfortunately they had no brochures in any language I can read and the web site is Japanese-only so this could also be a secret project to build very small hotel rooms for extraterrestrials.

We walked around the Ginza area a bit, stopping at the main Sony store and showcase as well as the Apple Store. We finished up the afternoon with a stop at a sake bar by the Apple store where we had some delicious sake neither us can remember the name of. And, no, it's not because we had too much sake.

For dinner Friday night we hooked up with some others from the group we're with and had dinner at an Indian restaurant called Diya in the Roppongi Hills complex. Indian? Yes. One can only have so much sushi, sashimi, robayataki, and nori. The food was delicious. There's many, many restaurants in the complex. I need to come up with some sort of excuse which manages to pay for the airfare here and hotel stay in order to eat at a few more of them.

Backing up a bit...Thursday night we ate dinner with the group at Roppongi Robataya. Very fun and delicious, with the added benefit that they didn't kill me with flying prawns. A bit long, I think towards the end other members of the group were fading pretty quickly (still only their first day in Japan). But it was a multi-course, open-pit barbeque consisting of various vegetables, meats, cooked fish, prawns (I can't vouch for the prawns since I obviously didn't try them). I would not recommend it for the first night or two in Tokyo unless you don't suffer from jet lag, otherwise make it a stop on your next trip (I'm looking at you Todd).

Today we did a walking tour of the Ueno area with a friend of the Gilbert family. I took some photos which I'll add to the flickr set for the trip, but nothing of consequence, just a nice ramble through a neighborhood very much off the tourist track. Lisa and I cut out a bit early to rest up before the party tonight.

Tomorrow we head to Kyoto. I'm not sure what the broadband situation will be like so I may well not post an update again until we return on Tuesday.

e.p.c. posted this at 00:35 GMT on 22-Oct-2005 from Tokyo, Japan.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Now in Kyoto

We arrived in Kyoto yesterday a.m. (23 Oct 2005) and will be here until the morning of the 25th when we return to Tokyo-Narita. Not much else to report...we wandered around downtown Kyoto a bit before I decided I needed a break from cultural overload and returned to the hotel to crash for several hours.

Although the Westin Miyako has broadband in the rooms, the provisioning server is down (or their access control is blocking access to their provisioning server), in any event we only have limited access from the hotel business center. We're changing to a ryokan later today to rejoin the group for the last night of the trip, so this really is the last post before we return to Tokyo if not the U.S.

e.p.c. posted this at 00:27 GMT on 24-Oct-2005 from Kyoto, Japan.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

On the way home

Now we're back at Narita, waiting for our flight back to NYC-JFK. The flight is approximately 15 million hours long, my plan is to listen to 20Gb of mp3s with my finger on the skip button for the next 12.2 million hours. Actually the flight may be longer since it appears that Wilma will be visiting New York just as we are about to land.

e.p.c. posted this at 08:19 GMT on 25-Oct-2005 from Narita, Japan.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Back home

Arrived home around 6:30 p.m. I immediately turned around and headed over to Monstermutt to pick up Frisket. Frisket made it quite clear with whirring, whooing and some shoving that I'm not supposed to go away for multiple weeks again.

Given that I woke up around 2100 GMT on Monday night and barely slept on the flight home, I'm surprisingly awake (perhaps three Code Reds for dinner helped). Am watching the Sox beat the Astros in apparently the longest World Series game on record.

I have to fly 253 miles to requalify for AA Platinum status for next year. I toyed with flying to Austin to check in on my brother's new house but that's not exactly a one-day trip. Lisa has suggested flying to Boston and back while American is engaged in a fare war with Jet Blue.

e.p.c. posted this at 07:08 GMT on 26-Oct-2005 from Brooklyn, NY.

Transcript of a speech by Doonesbury's Garry Trudeau about his surprising yet cordial relationship with the military.

e.p.c. posted this at 14:50 GMT on 26-Oct-2005 .

LibraryThing

Via Crooked Timber � � Small-World Affiliation Networks: LibraryThing, an online book catalogue for your personal library that uses tags like Flickr and del.icio.us.

e.p.c. posted this at 15:12 GMT on 26-Oct-2005 .

NORA Calling

Todd writes about non-obvious relationship awareness (NORA) and how it would have been extremely useful four years ago: Three Degrees of Separation: Jonas suggested it might have been possible to have identified the hijackers in advance, because they had clearly left evidence that they were in one another's orbit. Identity recognition has historically focused on creating a single 360 degree view of an individual, using data that is directly attributable to that individual.

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Related Articles

e.p.c. posted this at 18:03 GMT on 26-Oct-2005 .

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Oops...be careful how you word that thing

Via Metafilter, a poorly written amendment to the Texas constitution, intended to outlaw same-sex marriage, may actually simply outlaw marriage altogether: Voters could end marriage for all?:

he first sentence of an intended ban on same-sex marriage, drafted by state lawmakers last spring, defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
The second sentence states: This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.
And not recognizing anything identical to marriage could mean not recognizing marriage, said Glen Maxey, who heads No Nonsense in November, an Austin-based group battling the amendment.

e.p.c. posted this at 15:57 GMT on 27-Oct-2005 .

Jet Lag Day 2

Ok, yesterday? I felt fine. Today? I feel like someone slugged me repeatedly with, I don't know, a slug. The allergies I allegedly don't have have kicked in and the Claritin knockoff I took is not having any effect. I'm seriously tempted to take a doze of NyQuil and call it a day.

See? I wrote doze up there when clearly I meant doze. Ergh. I can't win.

e.p.c. posted this at 16:46 GMT on 27-Oct-2005 .

Monday, October 31, 2005

It's about time

Via somewhere, perhaps BoingBoing, I learned that there is (allegedly) no official (ie, U.N., ISO, etc) source for time zone information and that most organizations, specifically computer systems developers, rely on Sources for Time Zone and Daylight Saving Time Data, which is maintained by a guy in his spare time.

e.p.c. posted this at 01:28 GMT on 31-Oct-2005 .

Here's a surprise: Web 2.0 Entrepreneurs don't want VC money

Read two articles about how the current crop of entrepreneurs (Web 2.0 or otherwise) are generally self-funding and are skipping the VC market: WSJ.com - Many Internet Start-Ups Are Telling Venture Capitalists: 'We Don't Need You' and Amazon beats VCs to the punch.

Generally founders are finding it significantly cheaper to develop software and web based products, both because hardware is significantly cheaper as well as the ability to outsource / offshore development. You don't need $10m to start up, flickr was started with $200k (unclear if that was US or CAD). This is causing consternation in the VC ranks as these startup companies turn $200k initial investments into $25MM payouts from Google, Yahoo! and others, skipping the whole VC cycle and inevitable IPO.

Personally, I've spent the past couple of years going to various VC related events and they have pretty much convinced me that, for the products and services I'm interested in developing and promoting, VC funding is the wrong answer. I now believe that the returns demanded by VCs end up warping the business needs and operations of the startups that get funded with VC money. You end up getting forced to go for the big bang, rather than stable growth.

From The Deal, about the founders of 43Things.com who'd come from Amazon's personalization group:

This is the type of engineering experience that most venture capitalists would kill for — especially in an environment where investments in next-generation Internet technologies are the hottest venture trend. But when it came time for Robot Co-Op to raise money to launch its prototype in the market, it didn't go to the Seattle venture establishment.

To the point about warping business operations, 43Things have been low-key on monetizing their users:

Peterson's high-minded attitude toward not monetizing his site's users could be influenced by his not having to indulge venture capitalists who may view revenue growth as proof of concept. Instead, the arrangement with Amazon.com furnishes Robot Co-Op with a greater degree of latitude than a typical startup.

One criticism levelled at Web 2.0 companies is that they're built to be flipped, that many of them seem to be features rather than complete services. This was a constant refrain (from what I'd label business side people) at the Web 2.0 conference I was at earlier this month. From the WSJ piece: Indeed, many of the modest Web start-ups operating today offer products and services that seem more like Web-site features than standalone businesses.

For many companies, that's sort of their plan — get acquired for a decent amount of money, says Evan Williams, who founded Blogger.com, a Web site he sold to Google in early 2003 for an undisclosed sum.

I've had time to think about this (you get bored flying to/from Tokyo) and I don't see what's wrong with building-to-flip, if only because that's sort of my goal with some of the work I'm doing. Some people want to run large, galactic businesses, others want to solve specific problems and then move on. And the VCs and finance industry critics expect companies to be built to flip, just on their terms (a buyout or IPO), they clamour for exit strategies up front so they can calculate what their possible return will be, before handing over a dime.

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Some followup discussions:

  • The Venture Capital Squeeze: Because starting a startup is so cheap, venture capitalists now often want to give startups more money than the startups want to take. VCs like to invest several million at a time. […] For all practical purposes, succeeding now equals getting bought. Which means VCs are now in the business of finding promising little 2-3 man startups and pumping them up into companies that cost $100 million to acquire., the acquirers have begun to realize they can buy wholesale. Why should they wait for VCs to make the startups they want more expensive? […] What they really want is the software and the developers, and that's what the startup is in the early phase: concentrated software and developers.
  • Paul Graham on the VC Squeeze: One thing we are starting to see from VCs these days (we’ve been contacted by over 20 so far — this figure is just for sample size, not horn tootin’) is the idea of selling Founder's Shares. They're starting to pitch liquidity instead of money to grow. Sort of a pre-exit stategy.
  • A better model for the future?: You can gain even more productivity by simply routing around the mainstream technology choices and go for something simpler. And that can give you a real edge.

e.p.c. posted this at 04:20 GMT on 31-Oct-2005 .

Music Industry Determined to Drive Away Customers

Via DRM Crippled CD: A bizarre tale in 4 parts, I came across this article: Burning the Faithful: The ironic result is that record companies treat their customers -- those who've chosen not to acquire music via illegal but easily accessible file-sharing sites -- as potential criminals. [...] In other words, DRM frustrates only the least capable, compelling them to get more capable, which provides them both a path around the restrictions and a tempting offer to stop buying CDs altogether.

The first article tells the story of a Suncomm protected CD from the band My Morning Jacket, which can't be played on anything but a Windows PC. Technically it's not even a CD, it won't (allegedly) play in a standard CD player. Furthermore, the copy protection was placed by the distributor, and not requested by either the artist or the label (ATO Records).

Related: Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far, which is an in-depth technical analysis of what happens when you buy Get Right with the Man by Sony BMG. You are required to run DRM software by Sony, software which installs what is called a root kit. Root kits are typically used to hack computers and turn them into zombies, or sniff passwords, or pretty much anything you can do once you've broken the security on a computer. Apparently Sony is now installing this software when you attempt to play one of their CDs on a Windows PC. The consequences: well, for starters, allegedly the root kit code is poorly written which means (in my mind) it can be compromised by hackers for further, unintended uses. Furthermore it degrades the processing on the computer, making it slower and prone to crashes.

Just like with region coding for DVDs, the recording industry seems determined to drive its customers away, while doing nothing to prevent the hard core people who are determined to crack and pirate music from doing so. I've decided not to purchase any DRM'd CDs, and generally avoid even buying tracks off Apple's iTunes. I've been bitten by a couple of CDs which weren't marked as having DRM, so the solution might be to just cease buying music entirely. We have ~12,000 tracks on our music server (almost all ripped from CDs we purchased). That might just be enough music for awhile.

Following up: someone has written a trojan or virus to exploit the security compromise created by the Sony DRM software: New virus uses Sony BMG software:

When recipients click on an attachment, they install malware, which may tear down a computer's firewall and give hackers access to a PC. The malware hides by using Sony BMG software that is also hidden -- the software would have been installed on a computer when consumers played Sony's copy-protected music CDs.

e.p.c. posted this at 22:52 GMT on 31-Oct-2005 .

Slightly acerbic and eccentric dog walker who masquerades as a web developer and occasional CTO.

Spent five years running the technology side of the circus known as www.ibm.com.

More about me here.

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